Research Paper By Lala Abdurahmanova
(Transformational Coach, AZERBAIJAN)
I am always ready to learn, but I do not always like to be taught. Winston Churchill
We are accustomed to hearing and are not surprised that learning process is unpleasant. Ask a typical pupil or student, how warmly s/he loves to learn, and probably the number of positive responses would not be so great. Parents believe that only strict discipline make “man” of their children and hardships of school will help them deal with other challenges and difficulties in life.
If you have observed the development of a child from the cradle to school, you surely can observe qualities such as curiosity, motivation and imitation of older children and adults. Children learn to walk, talk, draw, sing and dance. Children have instinctively inherent desire for learning, self-improvement and growth. But why we observe the opposite when stepping off school age: crying, dislike of school, and sometimes even complete resistance.
A good pupil is considered those who are not sleeping at night, who know by heart all subjects and are praised by all teachers and who have time for all subjects from algebra to drawing. Those, who act within the system.
Peter Gray, who is a research professor in the Department of Psychology at Boston College, did a huge amount of research. He says: “The focus of my own research has been on learning in children who are of school age, but who aren’t sent to school, or not to school as conventionally understood. I’ve examined how children learn in cultures that don’t have schools, especially hunter-gatherer cultures, the kinds of cultures in which our species evolved. I’ve also studied learning in our culture by children who are trusted to take charge of their own education and are provided with the opportunity and means to educate themselves. In these settings, children’s natural curiosity and zest for learning persist all the way through childhood, adolescence and into adulthood.”
In 1999, Professor Sugata Mitra conducted an experiment called “Hole in the Wall”, which dealt with the education of children. He put computers in kiosks in the streets in the poorest regions of India, where the population are illiterate and provided free access to children. The experiment showed that children themselves, without the knowledge of the English language and formal training, learned to use different programs on the computer and the Internet.
Mitra’s experiments illustrate how three core aspects of human nature — curiosity, playfulness and sociability — can combine beautifully to serve the purpose of education.
Impossible and unnecessary to abandon formal training, but only by relying on natural instincts to learning and acquiring knowledge, can you achieve a positive attitude towards learning. Providing more freedom, focus on the talents and abilities of children, their ability to think rather than memorize, promoting their own opinions, even different from the teacher’s opinion is the key to success!
Closer to adulthood, when the teenager must choose a profession, pressure by society and parents is observed when they try to find the most promising, high paid and prestigious profession for their child and a job in the future. And as a result we can seem any freshly graduated lawyers, financiers and economists who do not work in their profession, or work reluctantly and see their employment as forced labor.
And one day a crisis descends. It causes depression, apathy or even aggression for some. Apparently, many regret their chosen profession. Some of my coaching clients are very successful, accomplished people who are seeking to find something professional, as strange as it may sound.
All that we can do is properly direct children to listen, watch and trust them more. Give them the freedom to choose and an opportunity to achieve what they dream of. And then the training will be a welcomed process, and work a favourite amusement. This will stimulate the principle of self-directed learning.
What is self-directed learning? In its broader meaning self-directed learning describes the process where individual take all the initiative in the learning process. Devolving this responsibility to children is not possible, but the conceptual application of this practice is highly recommended. As well known American teacher Annie Sullivan said “Children require guidance and sympathy far more than instruction.”
What happens with adult education? Typical learning process situations in companies:
- Training courses are conducted for employees in company, and they do not attend it.
- Employees complain that the manager does not develop them.
- Employees complain of the quantity and\or quality of educational programs.
The situation is certainly familiar. Let’s see how we can contribute to the smooth development of employees in a company.
Self-directed learning is certainly not a panacea, especially for new employees, those who are developing new skills and knowledge, as well as newly appointed managers. They sometimes need training in basic and other forms of formal training. Training is gaining experience in conjunction with leading as well as other training participants. A few high quality hours of training is the same as several years of life, during which you gain experience by trial and error method.
The advantage of this work is that the group is a kind of society. There are factors such as social influence and pressure of partners. So, patterns of communication psychology and behaviour of others can be observed and analysed.
Working in group makes the process of self-discovery, self-knowledge and self-learning much easier. Just such an opportunity is provided by training.
Is this form of training suitable to all without exception? Of course, not. Employees and managers, who have mastered certain skills and knowledge, have needs in other forms of development. It’s helpful to participate in new projects, new jobs with ample opportunity for self-development. Often, the mentioned activity is not considered as a separate form of training, but it is one of the most effective forms designed for experienced workers. Here, self-directed learning is effective, by which employees receive a new assignment and have to determine where and how to obtain new information, how to use it and much more.
Meanwhile, distance learning or e-learning is gaining more popularity. This type of education will certainly save time, money, and also allows more flexibility in the education system itself. Young people have fun in mastering this type, but people of older generation may be sceptical about it and even have a negative attitude. This factor must be taken into account if there is a segment of middle -aged and older workers in company.
Among the most interesting forms of training are business simulations and case studies. The first use of games for education and development was the war game simulations in China in about 3,000 B.C. Different war games have also been conducted in Japan before the Second World War and have been long used by the British and Americans to test battle strategies. Military officers trained with war games in the 1930s and 1940s started to use their military training to manage civilian businesses. The use of games in business and economics goes back to 1956 when the American Management Association developed the first so-called management decision-making game, called the Top Management Decision Game. Other sources claim that the real homeland of using business games was Sweden.
Participants have the opportunity to solve problems, make decisions and so on. This tool also helps them to look at themselves in unexpected and unusual situations.
Among of the most difficult satisfactory segments in companies are middle and senior managers. Typically, these people, who have attended numerous training sessions, have reread mountains of books and participated in different projects. Their need is an individual approach and time-saving. But here comes the aid of coaching, which is one of the clearly marked forms of self-directed learning. It is not the coach who says what you should know, but you determine what you want to learn, and the coach helps you on your way.
What is coaching? Wikipedia says:” Coaching is a training or development process via which an individual is supported while achieving a specific personal or professional competence result or goal.” But ICF presents us the term coaching in a bit different way: “Professional Coaching is an ongoing professional relationship that helps people produce extraordinary results in their lives, careers, businesses or organizations. Through the process of coaching, clients deepen their learning, improve their performance, and enhance their quality of life.”
We can observe the common line in the suggested explanation and description; both sources refer to development and learning!
The main idea of self-directed learning is the ownership and responsibility for the learning process. As the coaching is self-directed process, it’s the most powerful tool for learning. As an additional value, the self-directed learning is better memory and better understanding. There was an experiment where participants had to memorize a grid of objects. The catch was that a single object only was visible through an aperture at a time. Experimentators found that items studied under self-directed control (i.e., being able to move the aperture around the grid during the study) were recognized more often than items studied under yoked conditions (i.e., being led to observe the same study sequence as chosen by a previous participant). This experiment shows us that in the case of self-control and ability to choose the style and most appropriate tools, we can have the best results.
Thus, the main advantages of the coaching process as a learning tool are:
- Coaching is a very personal process, it’s based on the coachees’ needs and requirements. If we compare it with the training process when the agenda is usually set by the trainer and all preparations are made beforehand, in case of coaching, we can see that the agenda is set by a client only and the main driver of the process is the client.
- Coaching is a practical and real-time learning process. The books can provide us with the theory or stories, but coaching helps to learn from our real situation and real life experience. We learn the most useful thing in the world which is learning about ourselves!
- Coaching helps to take the responsibility and have the ownership for our decisions. The clients learn that they are in charge of themselves and their personal development
To illustrate coaching as the best example of self-directed learning, let’s review one of the famous coaching models called GROW. The process starts with the identification of coachee’s Goal. It’s the first step where client learns what s/he really wants! Asking a simple question, usually it requires quite a long time to answer. We are all used to having various stereotypes and usual way of thinking, and we forget our real mission, our real desires and wishes in the life. Powerful questions help to analyse our values and feelings and help us to get back to our inner world. The client learns to dream big?! The client learns to visualize the desired future. The end goal gives an inspiration, motivation and self-confidence. Thus, the client also learns to measure the goal.
Reviewing the Reality is the next step of the model. We are used to blaming circumstances, environment, parents, managers, weather conditions, when we cannot achieve our goals. The coaching process helps to look inside and see what we have to achieve our goal. The client learns to focus on his/her strengths, abilities, skills and internal resources.
Coming to the Options (or Opportunities) stage, the client reviews his/her possible choices. The key learning point is to be open-minded and see that there are always more ways than one. Without getting any advice or suggestions or consultation from the coach, , the client is stimulated to learn, search and find options on his/her own.
Finally, we end up with the Will (or Way forward) when the client decides on his/her choice, when only the client takes a decision and creates the actions to be implemented in order to achieve his/her goal.
What do we observe in the process? Each stage provokes the learning, each stage is directed only by clients’ needs and interest, each stage is driven by the client’s discovery and exploration. All needs are different!? Rob Serling, a writer says about writing for the radio: “When you write ‘there was a castle on a hill’ for radio, and that line is spoken for a listening radio, each listener imagines a castle. There are as many different castles as many listeners”. This phrase is totally applicable for the coaching process, as all clients have different needs, different understandings and the same word may mean different things to them. In the coaching process it is the client who choose how s/he would like to be coached, what are the preferences, how often and when to be coached. The client is interested to enhance and improve his/her knowledge, skills and abilities.
We have been talking about the coaching process for the adults, and what about the kids? What can we do to stimulate the self-directed learning approach in our children? How can we use the coaching while communicating with them?
- As parents we have to be attentive and observe our kids talents and interests. What we can do is to support their interests and help to develop it. Observe whether your kid is fan of dancing, painting or playing logical games.
- Help to set goals and achieve them. It could be even something minor, but the goal should be initiated by the child, for example, learning to play football, getting a new friend, and so on.
- Help to make own decisions, how the child is going to achieve the goal. As a parent, you can challenge your child with the powerful questions (like “How much time do you think you need for that?”, “Where you will get information from?”, and so on). It’s the hardest part for parents’ perspective as we are used to setting plans for our children.
- The child will understand responsibilities, and as the parents we can have regular talks with the child to help him/her to assess the progress and understand what happens if s\he follows his/her plan and if they do not
- Most probably the child will face problems, challenges and dilemmas. Help him/her not to give up, but assist in solving the problems and adjusting the plan if necessary.
- And the last, but the most important thing is to help your child to learn from his/her experience! Mistakes are the part of the life, and as John Wooden said: “If you are not making mistakes, then you are not doing anything.”
All these mean that if we can coach our kids and not direct them, if we learn to listen to them and not to talk only, we can bring up the “self-developer”. To illustrate it more, let’s look at two different examples in the same situation.
The child gets a low score on his/her math. Mom and her son have an evening talk on the issue.
Mom: Oh, you have got a low score. I’m disappointed. Why didn’t you get well prepared?
Son: I did not have a time.
Mom: Why? Did you play your games? Go to your room please and be prepared for tomorrow. I don’t want to see this kind of result anymore.
Mom: I see you got a low score. How do you feel now?
Son: I feel bad.
Mom: What do you think what the reason was you could not do your homework?
Son: I didn’t have a time.
Mom: Do you know why you did not have a time?
Son: I don’t know
Mom: If you recall your yesterday, how did you distribute your time?
Son: I did my French and watched the movie.
Mom: What could you do different not to get the low score and feel bad?
Son: I would do my math before watching the movie.
Mom: Ok, sounds great! You know the solution. What are you going to do for your tomorrow’s math?
The dialogue can continue further until the child would learn from his own mistake and make a decision how he is going to solve it.
What are the benefits if we use the coaching with the child? S/he learns to understand his/her feelings, and learns to take decisions and gets his/her ownership for the actions and goal. To say it in short, s/he becomes a self-learner.
We can see that the coaching is the most effective way of self-directed learning, where the person is able to choose his/her own way, including tools and style of learning.
What are the main benefits of the coaching in terms of self-directed learning principles?
- We improve our performance in any area we would like to improve it.
- Answering the questions, we become more curious and interested in what we do
- We increase our confidence and motivation
- We increase the sense of responsibility for our life
- We achieve more
- We see than we can do much more than we thought we could do
- We become more courageous
- We increase the self-awareness
As we can see, the bottom line is that there is no single model and form of education for both children and adults. However the principles of self-directed learning will have the advantages in comparison with any other form of learning.
The natural drivers and abilities of people to learn are fully sufficient to motivate their entire education. All we need to do is to provide them with the freedom and opportunities to do so. Needless to mention that not everyone will learn the same things, in the same way or at the same time. But that’s a good thing. Our society thrives on diversity. We need people with many different kinds of skills, interests and personalities. And we need people with a self-motivation who are able to do self-monitoring and achieve the goals.
How to develop the self-directed learning? Observe, improve, adapt something new, evaluate ideas, test, explain patterns, separate causes from symptoms, challenge, study, demonstrate and question and find many other ways.
You cannot teach a person anything; you can only help him find it within himself. Galileo
Wikipedia- web resource
ICA learning materials
Maurice Gibbons: Self-Directed Learning Handbook
Terry Bacon: Self-Directed Coaching
Nelson, Cushion, Potrac: Formal, non-formal and informal coaching learning
Parent in Education- web resource
Self-Directed learning- web resource